We learned this week that Ted Simmons has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Modern Era committee. And while induction into Cooperstown is generally considered the pinnacle of all honors, for former Cardinals, there are two distinctions even more rare.
Will Ted Simmons have his number retired or a statue erected at Busch Stadium?
There are 36 members of the Cardinals Hall of Fame who I would classify as players. 43 former Cardinals are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There are a number of players who are on one list but not the other. On one side, you’ve got longtime Cardinals like Bob Forsch or Ray Lankford, and on the other you’ve got great players who made only brief cameos in St. Louis, like Cy Young and John Smoltz.
Of those enshrined in Cooperstown as players, 15 played the majority of their career in St. Louis. This is the inner circle of Cardinals greats.
Of those 15, only eight have had their numbers retired by the team: Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Ken Boyer, Dizzy Dean, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson. Rogers Hornsby played before players wore numbers, but he is represented on the outfield wall with the rest of this group, so that grows this list to nine.
Of these nine players, all but Ken Boyer are also honored with a statue outside the stadium. So the inner, inner circle of “statue guys” is only eight.
The National and Cardinals Halls of Fame have systems and committees in place for electing players, but what are the guidelines for retired numbers or statues? That’s not so clear - although the organization has worked to clarify it.
In 1984, the club retired both Boyer’s #14 and #85, in honor of Owner Gussie Busch’s 85th birthday. Boyer was a beloved former player and team captain who had recently died of cancer, though not quite the HoF caliber of his retired-number peers. Busch was a rich guy who wanted to celebrate himself.
As for the statues, I wrote a few years ago about the Mark McGwire statue that lurks somewhere in the bowels of Busch Stadium. The team commissioned the sculpture in anticipation of unveiling it when McGwire was elected to the Hall of Fame. Of course, a funny thing happened on the way to Cooperstown, and the club has never unveiled the bronze. In the midst of that, Cardinal Officials stated that retired numbers and statues would only be bestowed on players elected to the National Hall of Fame.
Since then, two former Cardinals have been elected to the Big Hall - Bruce Sutter and Lee Smith. Neither has been honored with a retired number or statue, but of course, both were also short-timers.
Simmons is another story altogether. 13 of his 21 seasons were spent as a Cardinal, including his peak years.
In terms of WAR, Simmons 45.0 ranks 7th all-time for position players as a Cardinal. Every player ahead of him has a retired number, and all but Boyer have both a retired number AND a statue. (The still active Albert Pujols is also among that group.) Both Lou Brock (41.8) and Red Schoendienst (33.1) rank below Simmons in WAR as a Cardinal.
In terms of years spent as a Cardinal, Simmons’ 13 is a bit below Schoendienst’s 15 and Brock’s 16. Perhaps more importantly, both of those players played for and won a World Series in St. Louis. Despite playing in the League Championship Series era, Simmons would not even take a postseason at-bat until he was traded to Milwaukee at the age of 31. And in his only World Series, he would lose to the new look Cardinals team that Whitey Herzog had built in-part by trading him away.
That gets at the reason that I wouldn’t expect to see Ted Simmons cast in bronze or his number 23 retired. Simba has cleared the bar of reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame. He did it overwhelmingly as a Cardinal. And in terms of value and production measured by WAR, he’s absolutely in the midst of the others in the inner, inner circle.
Where Ted Simmons falls a little short is in terms of narrative. Through no fault of his own, he played during one of the driest spells in St. Louis baseball history. On top of that, the player most consider the best catcher of all-time played in his league at exactly the same time.
That’s not fair, and if you’re someone who pines for a world governed by order, it’s not a satisfying reason for Simmons to fall short of these highest honors. But I suspect it’s the way it’s going to be. And for much the same reason, I fully expect that Yadier Molina - who seems all but certain to fall short of Simmons’ career WAR - will be cast in bronze within hours of his retirement.